Stealing Copper: Crime Pays

In the dark of night, I heard the guys get up out of bed & rustle around. Mrs. P was snoring in her bedroom down the hall. Danae was sleeping quietly. The moon shone brightly through our thin curtains. I had insomnia from Day One but could sleep if the drapes were thick & dark. Mom had sewn beautiful, lined royal blue, full length curtains for the two windows in my Great Falls bedroom. But this was the crash pad. Nothing fancy now.

I stood at the window-door, overlooking the parking lot. RW & his two younger brothers snuck across the asphalt, toward a construction site south of the complex. What were they going to do?

I slid my Levi’s on & put a shirt over my sleep-T. Tip-toed into the living room & tied up my Keds. Crept out the front door, down stairs & began running toward where the boys were. I caught up with them just as Cameron was whispering, “Here’s some!”

What the heck are you guys up to?” I demanded. Hands on hips like I did at Lake Fairfax Park in my Junior Park Ranger uniform when I caught someone smoking in the forest.

Jr. Park Ranger

Jesus, Dixie! You scared me to death. Go on home.” RW shooshed at me with his hands.

No way. You are stealing. I know it. What’s that, Cameron?”

Cameron sheepishly held up a loop of copper tubing. It gleamed in the moonlight.

Listen, Dixie” Cameron got close to me. “We are starving! You weigh about 90 pounds right now! Mom’s check only goes so far. And the food stamps run out by the middle of each month. You & RW are working as hard as you can but that money is gone! This is necessity!”

I have to use my money for college. I’ve gotta take classes & get a better education so I can get a better job. I am not going to run a cash register & clean bathrooms all my life!”

Nobody expects you to,” RW said. “But this shall bring us a princely sum.”
He held up a large loop of copper.

Where are you even going to sell it? Everyone will know it’s stolen! They might report you to the cops.”

Breathe deep, Mama San. Ain’t gonna happen. My boss will buy this outright.”

What? Your construction boss? He’ll know you don’t own a copper business!”

Get back home. Leave this to the men.”

Augh! Some men! Cameron is only 15!”

And I’d work if anybody would hire me. But they all say ‘cut your hair’ & that ain’t never gonna happen.”

Cameron had gorgeous, golden-red curls that fell to his shoulders. Nobody wanted him to ever cut that lovely hair.

Well, OK but if you get arrested I will not bail you out! And that’s Final!”

The boys laughed. “The rules girl strikes again!”

I snuck back up to my bedroom. Danae woke up, What’s going on?”

Nothing. I was just outside talking to RW about something.”

Outside! Why outside? About what?”

He was smoking a cigarette. You know your mother won’t let anybody smoke in the apartment. Just this & that, working, making money & all that jive. Let’s try to get some sleep. You have school tomorrow & I have to go to work & classes.”

I tossed & turned until hearing the boys return at nearly dawn. They rattled around in their bedroom, clanking pipes & whatnot. I got up & went to have a look. RW was shoving copper tubing into a big satchel.

Lord! How much money can you get for that?”

We shall see, my Love. We shall see.”

He came home from his construction job that night, flashing six twenties around. He handed his mother four of the bills. Gave me one & kept the other for his own spending cash.

Son, should I ask where you got this?” Mrs. P fingered the money & the cross around her neck.

No, Mama. Just be happy we can buy food.”

We ate well for the next two weeks. Baked chicken, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob! Mrs. P even made brownies.

Crime Pays!” I whispered to RW as we washed dishes.

He laughed, “Sometimes it do, Mama San. Sometimes it do.”

But we kept our jobs. RW doing construction & tree trimmer. Me at Lum’s, running the cash register. Mrs. P cleaning apartments.

Lums friend

My friend & co-worker at Lum’s Tavern  Northern Virginia


I shouldn’t have been so uppity & self-righteous with the boys about the copper tubing. A few years prior to the copper incident, I’d gone with RW, his brothers & sister to a falling down mansion in Herndon.

It’s abandoned!” cried Cameron. “The old lady got sent to the nuthouse. Let’s go in.”

No deal,” Rules Girl struck. But I did sneak up to peer in through the dirty windows. It was hard to see anything.

The door’s ajar. It’s not liking breaking in or anything,” said RW’s little sister.

If the door is a jar, how will we enter?” Joked RW. Oh, I hated puns!

You guys go ahead. I’ll look in through the door but I am not breaking & entering.” I was adamant.

They went inside the once-elegant house, one by one. Sunlight shone on an oaken, living room floor covered in papers & books. There were built-in shelves full of leather-bound books. It was like the Library of Congress. Temptation caught me. I rushed over to flip through pages. Found an autograph scrapbook. There were sketches, watercolours, signatures like “To Angel From your Dickie Bird! August 8, 1928.”

Oh, wow! This is History,” I shouted.

The boys were creeping up ancient stairs. “Come back, you might fall through!” I was only slightly worried. The books held my interest in a vise grip. But it wasn’t fair. If the lady came home from the insane asylum, wouldn’t she want her items all neatly shelved? I began picking books & knick-knacks off the floor, dusting them off & replacing them on the shelves.

What in tarnation are you doing, Dixie?” asked Danae.

Cleaning up in case the owner comes home.”

Geeze, you are So weird. She’s probably dead. Look how old everything is!”

We could sell that chandelier for a thousand bucks!” yelled RW from the second floor.

No, you don’t! That is dangerous, you’d fall & crack your head. Get down here this minute. I’m going home & if you want a ride, you will leave now!”

Everyone moaned but teased me all the way to their house.
“Dixie, why don’t you write a new 10 Commandments! Thou shalt not go upstairs. Thou shalt not take one little book.”

Or a chandelier made of cut glass!” I was furious.

A few months later, RW & his mother (!!) persuaded me to drive everyone to the old lady’s house. I took them & Cameron but refused to go inside. I sat in the car, reading a book, studying for yet another Langley High exam. I was so engrossed in my studies, I didn’t see a car pull up behind mine.

A tap at the window. A cop! Oh my God!

Are you the getaway driver?” He was almost chortling. My eyes were as huge as Betty Boop’s.

No, sir! I did not want to go in! I am waiting to drive them home. They’re just exploring.”

He marched toward the house. Should I hit the horn to warn them? That would be obvious. The officer would get mad. I sat sweating with fear.

The cop came back post haste. He led the troupe, Mrs. P in front.

How old are you, M’am?” he asked her.

Forty,” she hung her head.

Well then you ought to know better. That woman goes in & out of the madhouse. She has a 30 ought 6 shotgun & she will use it! You are lucky she wasn’t at home. Now ya’ll get on. If I see you here again, I’ll arrest the lot of you. Pay more attention to Little Miss Do-Good here.”

I blushed like crazy. I hated being called a goody two shoes. I was wilder than Anyone but I’d perfected an innocent, wide-eyed look from the time I was 6, to prevent beatings from Dad when he was in a rage fit.

We’re SO sorry, Sir. It won’t happen again,” I promised.

All the way home, the kids repeated that phrase. Mrs. P told them to stop but they kept on for weeks. “We’re SO sorry, Sir!”

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